Movie Stars Who Came Out of Retirement to Act Again

Movie Stars Who Came Out of Retirement to Act Again

For some actors, the adoration of fans, the riches, the ability to get the best table at the best restaurants and to work in exotic locations are not enough reasons to remain in the public eye. 

They choose to step away from the pressure to deliver a film triumph, to avoid intrusive media, to live beyond the rabid attention of the public.

Yet some performers miss the spotlight and return to it. They simply change their minds and after several years come back to the industry – actors such as Alec Baldwin, Robert Redford, and Anthony Hopkins. For James Cagney, the hiatus was about 20 years, before director Miloš Forman convinced him to appear in “Ragtime.” (These are the most bankable actors of the 21st century.)

24/7 Tempo has created a list of actors who came out of retirement to return to the big or small screen by reviewing articles on the subject on sites including Screen Rant, BBC America, FandomWire, and Smart Asset.

The profession can be especially difficult on child actors. Macaulay Culkin and Jack Gleeson both starred in blockbusters (“Home Alone” and “Game of Thrones,” respectively) and both left the industry because of burnout. The career of Shirley Temple, a huge star in the 1930s, was over by the time she was 22 because she didn’t like being typecast. (In our own era, here are 44 actors who are always typecast.)

Audrey Hepburn, Cameron Diaz, and Evangeline Lilly all chose to retire to focus on their children before they returned to the industry. Other actors had to end or suspend their careers for health reasons, among them Michael J. Fox and Shia LaBeouf.

Former child actor, Ke Huy Quan returned to the big screen in 2022 in the film Everything Everywhere All At Once, his first film in more than 20 years. He had left acting because of the lack of opportunities for Asian actors.

Persistence paid off for director Martin Scorsese. He refused to take no for an answer from retired actors Daniel Day-Lewis and Joe Pesci. They returned to star in “Gangs of New York” and “The Irishman,” respectively.

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James Cagney

James Cagney’s brash yet likable persona playing gangsters and song-and-dance men landed him roles in scores of films starting in the 1930s. He retired from movies in 1961, after starring as a fast-talking Coca-Cola sales executive in Billy Wilder’s Cold War comedy “One, Two, Three.” He retired to his farm in upstate New York and focused on painting, stockbreeding and conservation.

Director Francis Ford Coppola tried and failed to talk him out of retirement to appear in “Godfather II.” Miloš Forman had better luck, persuading Cagney to play a New York police chief in his 1981 movie version of E.L Doctorow’s novel “Ragtime.”

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Alec Baldwin

Alec Baldwin appeared in a string of hits beginning in the early 1980s, such as “Beetlejuice,” “Working Girl,” “The Hunt for Red October,” and “Glengarry Glen Ross.” But by 2014, Baldwin had had too many bad public incidents, including the revelation of a taped telephone rant directed at his middle-school-aged daughter, and he retired.

He wasn’t retired for long. Since his return to the entertainment world, Baldwin has appeared in films such as summer blockbuster “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” and lent his voice to the “Boss Baby” franchise. His troubles aren’t over, though: While filming an independent film in New Mexico last October, he accidentally discharged a pistol, killing the cinematographer and wounding the director.

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Evangeline Lilly

Canadian actress Evangeline Lilly became famous for her role of Kate Austen in the acclaimed television series “Lost.” When the series ended its run in 2010, Lilly announced her retirement, and headed to, in her words, “a life of quiet motherhood and writing.”

The retirement was a brief one. In 2011, she appeared in “Real Steel,” and the following year she was cast as an elf in “The Hobbit.” She has since appeared in action adventure franchises such as Ant Man and the Avengers.

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Audrey Hepburn

The Oscar-winning actress (“Roman Holiday”) who beguiled filmgoers as Holly Golightly in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” earned a then-eye-popping $1 million for her most famous role as Eliza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady” in 1964. Four years later, she retired from acting to focus on raising her family.

Hepburn was offered – and turned down – parts in noteworthy films such as “Nicholas and Alexandra” “The Exorcist,” “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” and “A Bridge Too Far” before returning to the big screen as Sean Connery’s co-star in “Robin and Marian.” She appeared in four more movies before her death in 1993.

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Daniel Day-Lewis

With three Academy Awards in tow, Daniel Day-Lewis, who has been called the greatest actor of his generation, has retired more than once from acting. In 1997, he left the big screen to become a shoemaker’s apprentice.

He returned to play the deranged gang leader Bill the Butcher in Martin Scorsese’s 2002 epic “Gangs of New York.” He subsequently announced that “Phantom Thread,” released in 2017, would be his last film.

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Joe Pesci

Joe Pesci has played volatile characters throughout his career, with most of the roles being gangsters. He’s also demonstrated his comedy chops in the Lethal Weapon films, “Home Alone,” and “My Cousin Vinny.”

Pesci had not acted in a live-action movie in almost 10 years, but Martin Scorsese convinced him to come out of retirement to play a low-key mobster in the 2019 film “The Irishman.” The movie reunited him with Robert De Niro (they both starred in “Raging Bull”).

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Anthony Hopkins

Two-time Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins (“The Silence of the Lambs,” “The Father”) is one of the greatest actors of our time, with a film career that dates from 1968. He’s not impressed with his profession though (in 2019, he called actors – including himself – “pretty stupid”). In 1998, Hopkins said he had enough of acting and retired.

A year later he returned, playing a serial killer in the thriller “Instinct.” Hopkins has been very busy since coming out of retirement, appearing as Pope Benedict XVI in 2019 in “The Two Popes,” and winning his second Academy Award in “The Father” in 2021, becoming the oldest Oscar winner in a competitive acting category at the age of 83.

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Shia LaBeouf

Shia LaBeouf overcame a difficult childhood to become a promising young actor, appearing on the TV show “Even Stevens” from 2000 to 2003. Then he starred in the Transformers movies and became a star. But the pressures of providing for his family and stardom took its toll, and LaBeouf developed an alcohol addiction that led to a public outburst during a Broadway show. He also was accused of plagiarizing a comic strip idea.

He announced his retirement from acting in 2013, but the following year, LaBeouf returned to motion pictures, appearing in the war film “Fury,” and he hasn’t stopped since.

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Cameron Diaz

Diaz, whose film credits include “Something About Mary,” “Vanilla Sky,” and “Charlie’s Angels,” married Good Charlotte singer Benji Madden in 2015. She officially confirmed her retirement in 2018. She and Madded had a daughter in 2020, and on the radio show “Quarantined with Bruce” last year, Diaz said that, as a mother, she couldn’t imagine being on a movie set for 16 hours a day anymore. But she left open the possibility of returning to films.

She did just that this year, starring in “Back to Action,” an as-yet-unreleased film for Netflix, alongside Jaime Foxx – with whom she’d appeared in 2014’s “Annie,” her last feature film appearance..

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Robert Redford

Robert Redford was one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars in the 1970s and 1980s with hits like “All the President’s Men,” “The Sting,” and “Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid” before he turned to directing. He still appeared in movies as well, but in 2018 he decided that his appearance in “The Old Man and the Gun” would be his last.

Redford has stayed on the acting sidelines for the most part. But in 2019 he came back to the big screen with a small part in Avengers: Endgame.

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Terrence Howard

The Oscar-nominated actor (“Hustle & Flow”) starred as Lucious Lyon on the television series “Empire,” which ran from 2015 to 2020. He said he was retiring when the show completed production in 2019. “I’m done with acting,” Howard told Extra TV at the time. “I’m just focusing on bringing the truth to the world.”

Apparently he wasn’t done with acting after all. In 2021, he starred in the movie “Triumph.” Howard also was part of the cast of the heist flick “Cut Throat City.”

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Michael J. Fox

Michael J. Fox was a fixture on television in the 1980s, winning Emmys for his roles on “Spin City” and “Family Ties.” His greatest triumph in films was as the time traveling Marty McFly in “Back to the Future.”

Fox was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1991 and announced his retirement. He focused on finding a cure for his condition and founded the Michael J. Fox Foundation. Fox returned to acting in 2000 and appeared in series such as “The Good Fight,” “Designated Survivor,” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

In 2020 his health started to decline and Fox released a memoir announcing his final retirement.

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Shirley Temple

America’s most famous child star, Shirley Temple could sing, dance, and act and was one of Hollywood’s biggest stars in the 1930s. When she was 22, Temple left acting because she was still being type-casted and was not satisfied with the quality of the films she appeared in.

She tried a comeback in the late 1950s and early 1960s as a host and guest on television series, but that failed to pan out. Temple lived a full life off the big screen as an ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia, a fund-raiser for the Republican Party, and advocated for a cure for multiple sclerosis.

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Ke Huy Quan

You might remember Quan as Indiana Jones’ young sidekick in the 1984 movie “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.” He later appeared in the films “The Goonies” and “Encino Man,” but left the industry because of the dearth of acting opportunities for Asian actors.

The former child actor returned to the big screen in 2022, earning critical acclaim for his role in the multiverse adventure Everything Everywhere All At Once, his first film in more than 20 years.

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Jack Gleeson

Six years after appearing in “Game of Thrones,” Irish-born actor Jack Gleeson returned to acting in 2020 to star in the British comedy series “Out of Her Mind.”

Gleeson had left the industry in 2014 after his character on “Game of Thrones,” the ruthless Joffrey Baratheon, was killed off. Gleeson, who had been acting since age 8, had said he retired from acting in order to pursue other interests.

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Rick Moranis

Rick Moranis was a cast member on two sketch-comedy television series – “”SCTV” and Saturday Night Live” – and was one of half of the McKenzie brothers comedy bit with Dave Thomas, a send-up of Canadian culture. He successfully transitioned into movies with hits such as “Ghostbusters,” “Brewster’s Millions,” and the “Honey, I Shrunk The Kids”

In 1997, he began a long hiatus to care for his children as a single parent (his wife had died in 1991), and though he’s done some voiceover work in animated movies, he hasn’t made a live-action film since then. It has been announced, however, that he will reprise his role as Wayne Szalinski in “Shrunk,” a sequel to the “Honey, I Shrunk The Kids” films – scheduled to go into production this year.

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Macaulay Culkin

Macaulay Culkin became a star in 1990 as a 10-year-old appearing in what has become a holiday staple, “Home Alone,” playing a boy who fends off burglars after his family forgets to take him on vacation with them. Culkin then starred in the tween romance “My Girl,” the comedy “Richie Rich,” and the thriller “The Good Son.” By the time he was 14 in 1994, he had made 15 movies in seven years and called it quits.

He returned to the industry in 2003, playing a party promoter and murderer in the cult film “Party Monster” and made indie films with musician Adam Green. He can also be seen on the cable TV series “American Horror Story.”

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Barbra Streisand

Singer and actor Barbra Streisand keeps saying goodbye to her musical career and coming back. The Oscar-Emmy-Grammy award-winner gave a farewell tour in 2000 – and a comeback tour six years later, followed by two more. (Maybe she should include “Never Can Say Goodbye” in her concert set list.)

She has also taken a hiatus from movies three times: There was an eight-year gap between 1996’s “The Mirror Has Two Faces” (which she also directed) and the 2004 comedy “Meet the Fockers” and a six-year span between that film and its sequel, “Little Fockers.” In 2012, she appeared in “The Guilt Trip” – and hasn’t been seen onscreen since.

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Joaquin Phoenix

Joaquin Phoenix has had a complicated career. He’s appeared in epics like “Gladiator,” horror flicks like “The Village,” biopics like “Walk the Line,” and crime thrillers like “Joker.” He’s also exhibited bizarre behavior, for instance during his appearance on “The Late Show with David Letterman” in 2009.

Phoenix announced his retirement in 2008, and it was documented in the 2010 film I’m Still Here, a mockumentary directed by his then-brother-in-law, Casey Affleck. The movie details how Phoenix decided to give up acting so he could focus on his gangster rap career.

That seemed like a bit of a head fake, and Phoenix rose again to appear in Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2012 drama The Master, a movie loosely based on Scientology. Since then he has continued to star in movies, even winning the Best Actor Oscar for playing the title role in “The Joker” (2019).

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